The Winter 1999 issue of Wild Steelhead & Salmon, an American fishing magazine, features an extensive interview with Ted Hughes. »So Quickly It's Over« — the title is adopted from Hughes's poem »An October Salmon« (River) — runs several pages (over 6.500 words), and is accompanied by three very good colour photographs (one full, two half-page) of Hughes.
It is a most revealing piece whose main topic, fishing, results in a rather personal, even intimate atmosphere. Clearly, Hughes is very much at home here. The tone is casual, open, but never lacking in vivid energy. Whether he is talking about pike, salmon, trout or the legendary steelhead, or whether he refers to the broader context of river mythologies or talks about personal memories, Hughes's fascination and concern come across sweepingly as first-hand experience.
In all its variety and scope, the interview may yield as much pleasure to the angler as to those whose main interest is in Hughes's work. Inevitably or typically, Hughes draws a broad picture reminiscent of his recollections in such pieces as »The Rock«, Poetry in the Making, or the interview in The Paris Review (Spring 1995). At its centre stands is lifelong concern with the importance of re-connecting with one's own deeper, inner life:
I think the real fascination of fishing to me is certainly more than just fish. It's something to do with the whole world . . . of your reaction to, your response to water and things living in water, the fascination of flowing water and living things coming up out of it — to grab at you and be grabbed. [Wild Steelhead & Salmon: 53]
[A]ny kind of fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self. [ibid.: 56]
Talking about different fish, he tells the reader about recurrent dreams he had, of pike and salmon (illuminating such early pieces as »Pike« from Lupercal). He touches on topics like environmental protection and conservation, and he talks about his fascination with stalking and killing animals during his childhood and youth:
I used to be hooked up on pike fishing when I was a teenager. Pike were the great thing. [...] I began fishing for them when I was about 10 or 11. I began to dream regularly about pike and about one particular lake where I did most of my fishing for them. [...] This recurrent dream was always an image of how I was feeling about things in general, how I was feeling about life. [ibid.: 50]
And there's the story of killing a wounded or sick grouse when walking to Wuthering Heights with Slvia Plath. Apparently, the fabled »heather bird« with its »funny eyebrows« [ibid.: 55] had been an important part of her imaginative landscape since childhood. But neither did she know it was grouse, nor had she ever seen one: »So, I'd not only killed this helpless thing in front of her,« says Hughes, »I'd killed the curious, legendary bird as well.« [Ibid.] And then he mentions that her intense reaction caused the realization in him of not wanting to kill »any bird or animal, ever again. And I didn't. I stopped shooting. But I went on fishing.« [Ibid.]
Hughes also talks about the special alertness that comes with hunting:
You'd be aware, somehow, of every bird or creature. [...] Your eyes would just go straight to it. You were just intensely alert to the whole landscape and the life in the landscape. [Ibid.: 55]
He tells us about fishing with his son Nicholas in Ireland and vividly describes his first experience fishing for steelhead on the Dean River with Ehor Boyanowsky (contributor to the magazine):
When we arrived a flood had wiped out the river. I think we sat under the tarp for two days. The flood took our wine cache. Then a dead bear came sailing by. And then, for the rest of the week we had this run of very big fish. [Ibid.: 52; cf. also »The Bear« in River]
The lengthy description of the experience is accompanied by a photograph of Hughes half-kneeling in the river and sporting a huge steelhead. It is a kind of picture one will rarely encounter in more literary-minded publications, and, maybe therefore one that is all the more memorable.
I am grateful to Tom Pero, editor of Wild Steelhead & Salmon, for the permission to quote from the interview.
The Winter 1999 issue of Wild Steelhead & Salmon was still available in January 2001. However, it now seems that the magazine's website is down and that the magazine ceased to exist. [ The old web site address was at www.wildsteelhead.com. ]